A Mockery of Justice: Caricature and the Dreyfus Affair

The End of the Affair

“Ovation au commandant Esterhazy après l’acquittement,” (Ovation of the Major Esterhazy after his Acquittal)

“Ovation au commandant Esterhazy après l’acquittement”

(Ovation of the Major Esterhazy after his Acquittal)

In 1898, the Affair took a new turn. As early as 1896, Colonel Georges Picquart established that Estherhazy had authored the letter known as the ‘bordereau’—the piece of evidence that sealed Dreyfus’s conviction. From 1896 on, Estherhazy faced a series of trials, court-martials, and covert operations but confirm his guilt, culminating in his acquittal before a closed military court in January 1898. The military repeatedly defended Esterhazy until his 1899 confession that he had in fact written the bordereau. Even then, any dissenting word against him was considered a conspiracy to discredit the army. For the high-ranking military officials, it was better to leave Dreyfus to languish on Devil’s Island than to admit their mistake.

Le Petit Journal here depicts the public’s devotion to Estherhazy and, by implication, to the military. Crowds of well-wishers have waited outside the courtroom to cheer his acquittal as he silently tips his képi in thanks for their support.

“Picquart élargi. D’après un dessin d’un jeune dreyfusard,” (Picquart Aggrandized. After a drawing by a young dreyfusard)

“Picquart élargi. D’après un dessin d’un jeune dreyfusard”

(Picquart Aggrandized. After a drawing by a young dreyfusard)

Caran d’Ache belittles the Dreyfusard campaign by depicting Picquart’s supporters as largely female, tumbling over themselves to offer him flowers. In the foreground, Madame Gustave Kahn, a Catholic poet who converted to Judaism, is caught in an act of unchecked violence as she strangles a Jesuit. 

Like Caran d’Ache’s Journaleux caricature, this satire is another attempt to ridicule Dreyfus’ supporters. Caran d’Ache imitates the naïve style of children’s drawings, representing Colonel Picquart with a halo and angel’s wings upon his exit from the Cherche-Midi military prison in Paris. Picquart, who became a popular hero in Dreyfusard journalism, had been accumulating evidence against Major Esterhazy since Dreyfus’s sentence in 1894.This culminated between 1896 and 1898, when Esterhazy was accused of penning the bordereau that led to Dreyfus’s conviction and exile. Esterhazy was acquitted, after which Picquart himself was put on trial for forgery, as the French military scrambled to reestablish its reputation.

“La prison militaire de Rennes,” (The Military Prison at Rennes)

“La prison militaire de Rennes”

(The Military Prison at Rennes)

After a lull in press coverage, Dreyfus re-entered the news in 1899. By then, his authorship of the bordereau had been undermined by mounting evidence against Esterhazy, and Dreyfus was permitted to return to France for retrial. In this image, Dreyfus enters the military prison in Rennes as curious bystanders look on. Though he was stripped of military rank, he salutes as he enters into a new imprisonment.

Dreyfus’s trial at Rennes ended, once more, in his conviction, though several days later, he accepted a presidential pardon. He and his supporters advocated for a review of the Rennes verdict and a complete annulment of the charges against him. In 1904, the Criminal Chamber agreed to their pleas, and in 1906, Dreyfus’s name was cleared. Nevertheless, French anti-Semitism raged on: in 1908, Dreyfus was shot and wounded by a journalist, Louis Gregori, at a public ceremony where Zola’s ashes were placed in the Pantheon.

A Mockery of Justice: Caricature and the Dreyfus Affair

12 December 2012-9 March 2013

Rubenstein Library Hallway Gallery
Perkins Library, Duke University

Gallery is open Monday-Sunday
Hours vary, please check online

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